Philosophers of former eras (like Descartes) held that it was ‘unscientific' to regard animals as thinking and feeling beings; they were just ‘machines' working on instinct. But now, through advanced scientific research (and commonsense!), we know that animals are more like us than we used to think, some with cognitive abilities equal to our own.
Anyone who shares their home with a cat or dog knows how special animals are, and those animals reared for food are no different. The more we learn about animals, the more our eyes are opened to the horrors of factory farming.
Current animal welfare legislation in New Zealand works to protect cruel factory farming practices, not the animals.
By using loopholes, exemptions, long phase-out periods and making standards unenforceable, cruelty is legal in New Zealand. Factory farmed animals are kept in miserable conditions where they cannot express their normal basic behaviour, contrary to the stated principles within the Animal Welfare Act.
While sow stalls (that keep a pregnant pig in a confined space barely bigger than her body length) are now illegal as of the end of 2015, farrowing crates (that sows are kept in after they have given birth) are allowed to continue, despite their welfare problems.
How the code process fails animals
While the Act clearly states that animals must be given the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour, the specific guidelines for individual animals are set out in the Codes of Welfare, which do not meet this principle.
For the last twelve years, Section 73(3) of the Act allowed under "exceptional circumstances" the continuation of practices that did not fully meet the obligations of the Act. The clause was meant to allow industries to remain operational during a transitional period.
However, this clause has been deliberately misused to legalise the ongoing confinement of hens in battery cages and pigs in farrowing crates and sow stalls.
NAWAC has even allowed the industries profiting from animal use to prepare the draft codes of welfare! In the case of this present review, the draft provides a financial analysis commissioned by the industry that shows the costs to the industry of moving to colony cage systems. NAWAC has expressly refused to conduct financial analysis on a move to non-cage systems, saying it is simply not an option.
Due to the failure of NAWAC to fulfill its function, many farm animals still endure practices that violate the principles of the Act: cages for layer hens; farrowing crates for pigs; and the extreme selective breeding for chickens raised for meat.
SAFE believes that while the purpose of NAWAC should be to determine good welfare for animals, it is overly influenced and guided by the economic interests of industries, and it is the animals that suffer as a result.
A shameful history
Over many years there have been various opportunities to improve welfare conditions for layer hens. However, all but minimal change has been stalled.
- In 1993, 368,000 people signed a petition seeking a referendum demanding the abolition of battery cages.
- In 2002, during the code review, 120,000 submissions were received asking for a ban on battery cages, but these were completely ignored.
- In 2005, NAWAC declared that individual space per hen of 450cm2 was insufficient and that 550cm2 of space needed to be introduced by 2014.
- In 2011, NAWAC recommended that 550cm2 is not sufficient for good welfare, but 750cm2 of individual space in the new colony cages is. It must be noted that 750cm is still only marginally larger than an A4 sheet of paper.
- In December 2012 the National government released the new code of welfare for layer hens, which allows the introduction of colony cages.